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5 ways to get more out of your spin class

Posted Sep 17 2012 4:30am

Hello hello!

How was your weekend? Mine was supremely relaxing – a great run, a long overdue haircut, two tea dates with some of my girlfriends, and a nap pretty much sums it up. ‘Twas lovely!

I know I’ve said it over and over that summer is my favourite season, but there are a couple of things that I look forward to during the fall:

  • Our condo association removes the speed bumps in our complex (to make it easier to clear the snow when it comes)
  • Pumpkin, butternut squash, and apples… ’nuff said
  • More participants in my spin classes!!

That’s right – the weather is getting cooler and this means more people are back to the gym. This is especially exciting for me because I love when my classes are packed with sweaty cycling enthusiasts at 6am! If you’re thinking about hopping back on the bike (or on for the first time) this fall, here are my top 5 tips for getting more out of each class.

Before RPM at Can Fit Pro 2012

1. Wear the right gear.

When it comes to a spin class, there’s not a whole lot of specialized equipment required. However, a few little tweaks to your workout gear can make all the difference. Here are a few of my essentials:

  • Cycling shorts – or at least shorts that come to mid-thigh, preferably made of spandex (or Lycra, which is actually just a brand name for spandex, sort of like Kleenex is a brand name of tissues). It only takes one class riding in too-short shorts to teach you never to make the same mistake again. I alternate between non-padded cycle shorts (usually the Lululemon Reverse Groove Shorts , which are a perfect length) and padded ones (the Sugoi Neo Pro short ) depending on how many classes I have to teach. The key thing is to have as little chafing as possible, and both pairs of these shorts have been serving me well for a solid year. I’m told that pros and avid cyclists go commando with the padded shorts because undies actually increase the likelihood of chafing….. I’ll leave that decision up to you. ;)

Source: Lululemon

  • Cycling shoes – Ok, these aren’t mandatory but they make a WORLD of difference. If you’re curious about the different types, be sure to check out my Cues and Shoes post, which details the types of clips and shoe styles. Since I do all of my riding indoors on a bike, I’ve got road bike style shoes, which are super light and have a very stiff sole. The type of clip is an SPD cleat, and this is a pretty common one across most spin bike manufacturers. Specialized shoes will help to keep your feet secure on the pedals. This means you can take that energy you would have been using to keep your feet in the pedal cages and using it to exert more power and increase leg speed instead. In short, they make you a more efficient rider, which is a great thing!

spin shoes

  • Breathable shirts - Short sleeved or sans-sleeves, it’s up to you. Heavy cotton is the devil when it comes to sweat, so if you can get a light sweat-wicking or Dry-Fit material, that’s ideal. About 95% of the shirts I use to work out in are made of luon or luxtreme , which makes them super stretchy, soft, and light. Trust me, you’ll work up enough of a sweat in the class that you won’t want long sleeves  or heavy fabrics to keep you warm!
  • A towel and waterbottle – This is probably a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how often people forget. It’s important to drink water all throughout your class, and a towel will be your best friend once the sweat starts dripping.

2. Show up early.

As an instructor, I LOVE it when my new participants make an effort to arrive a little early. This gives me time to help them set up their bikes properly, which is crucial to a good ride. A lot of participants come in 2 seconds before class is about to begin, tuck in at the back of the room, and ride with their seats waaay too low. There’s no real danger to riding with the seat too high (other than obvious discomfort), but if it’s too low, watch out. Your knees will definitely feel this over time if you do it for a while, and not in a good way!

It’s not just newbies that benefit from turning up early. Even if you’re a very seasoned indoor cyclist, arriving early means you’ve got first pick at where you sit in the room and which bike you ride. You can move around until you find one that feels best to you, or ensure that you get “your usual spot” before anyone else.

(Source)

3. Use proper resistance.

You wouldn’t go to the gym just to look at the equipment, right? And you wouldn’t go outside and get on your bike if it didn’t have a chain on it, right? A bike without a chain isn’t going to get you anywhere, and simply looking at gym equipment rather than actually using it isn’t going to get you any results. The same is true with resistance on an indoor cycling bike. If you don’t turn the dial up a bit, your muscles will be less engaged throughout your workout and as a result, you won’t get as much out of your class.

Depending on the type of cycling class you’re doing, the instructor will use different cues to indicate how much resistance to use. I teach Les Mills RPM and freestyle spin, and the RPM ‘way’ of cueing load is to refer to base resistance and working resistance. The base is the absolute minimum you want to have on the bike at all times. This helps to ensure that injuries are prevented and that the legs are in control of the pedals, not the other way around. Every road (even a flat one) has a little bit of resistance, and the same should be true any time you’re sitting on a spin bike.

spin bike resistance knob

Working resistance is typically cued with reference to the beat of the music, but the feeling you’re aiming for is a more noticeable pull in the hamstring. It’s a resistance you should find more challenging, but you should be able to accelerate and race with this load. It’s the one you’d be using on ‘racing’ portions of the workout, and is the fastest your legs will go during the class. If you feel that you’re bouncing around in the saddle when you race or sprint, chances are you haven’t got your working resistance on. Turn the dial up a bit more, engage through your core, and that should solve the problem! If you’re looking for more detail about how to do each of the RPM riding positions properly, check out this breakdown of all the moves on LesMills.com.

4. Trust the instructor.

If the person teaching your class has a good amount of experience, they should be cueing and coaching you throughout so that you:

  • know what to expect
  • have confidence that you’re riding correctly and safely, with the right resistance and leg speed
  • can anticipate what’s coming up next
  • can make it to the end of the class without feeling too exhausted to carry on

Giving participants a general idea of what the workout is going to look like and when the big efforts are coming is something I always aim to communicate. I know how annoying it is to be suddenly told to “SPRIIIIIINT!!!” with no indication of how long to do it for. When this happens, it’s only natural to hold back a bit. However, if your instructor tells you that you’ll be sprinting 4 times for 30s each, with 30s breaks in between, it allows you to go all-out on those efforts because you know a recovery is coming.

spin bike handlebars

You’ll probably have to attend the same class a few times before you feel you can trust the person teaching it to give you these cues, but when the trust is established, you’ll feel more comfortable with giving your all and making the most of each hard work phase. For RPM specifically, you shouldn’t be able to make it to the end of the class without hitting the ‘breathless’ point at least a few times. Your instructor will let you know when these opportunities are coming, so make sure you grab ‘em and ride like you stole something! ;)

5. Stay for the cool-down.

I know you’ve got places to go and things to do, but if you can stay to cool down at the end of the class, your body will thank you! It’s really important to make sure your heart rate a chance to come back down and to flush the lactic acid out of your legs before hopping off the bike. Not only does this prevent post-workout dizziness, but it will also help you to ride stronger next time. The stretches at the end of class will aid in your recovery too, and prevent post-workout stiffness. If you really, really have to leave early, at least promise me you’ll do a few hip flexor stretches before you go. One of my favourites is pictured below:

(Source)

The hip is one of the tightest joints in both cyclists and runners, so give it a little TLC!

So tell me…

  • If you’re an instructor, do you have any other tips to add to my list?
  • If you’re a participant, what is your #1 spin class pet peeve? I want to know so that I can make sure I don’t do it!!
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